Haskell Report (Cont.)

War Emblem, sent off as the 1-5 favorite, looked to be the only speed in the race, with Magic Weisner, Puck, Mr. Mellon, and Like a Hero stalkers or closers. All Baffert wanted was a clean break, after the debacle in the Belmont Stakes. When War Emblem started to get fidgety behind the gate, the assistant starter grabbed his ear, causing him to rear slightly. Espinoza yelled to the starter to leave him alone.

The start was perfect, and War Emblem, as expected, went to the lead, as Espinoza took a slight hold of him. Puck and Mr. Mellon put pressure on him, followed by Magic Weisner and Like a Hero. After an opening quarter in :23.83 and a half in :47.23, War Emblem, as he's done in the past, kicked into another gear, flying his next quarter in :23.44. That pretty much broke the race open, as War Emblem was now reaching out with those long, efficient strides of his. Passing the five-sixteenths pole, he began putting distance between himself and the rest of the field. He changed leads on cue, and Espinoza never went to the whip, winning comfortably, with Magic Weisner out-closing Like a Hero for second. With a final eighth in :12.80, War Emblem completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.21. Galloping out, Puck pulled up at the seven-eighths pole with some lameness in his right front leg.

"This is the War Emblem we know," Baffert said, waiting for the horse to return. "He's a remarkable horse, and I'm just glad he showed up today for the fans. These fans here are super."

Baffert couldn't help but think about the prince, which made the victory bittersweet in a way. "I thought about the prince in the paddock," Baffert said, "but when War Emblem crossed the wire it was all about the horse. That's the way the prince was. He enjoyed racing and loved his horses so much. He had a great sense of humor and lived life to the fullest. I lost a good friend, who was very generous and caring. It's going to affect a lot of lives now that he's gone. Opening day at Del Mar in particular was really rough. This picks your head up and makes you realize you better just enjoy life."

According to Mulhall, War Emblem will return to Del Mar and likely be pointed for the Pacific Classic (gr. I), rather than the Travers (gr. I) and a showdown with the spectacular Jim Dandy winner Medaglia d'Oro. "It's a lot cooler at Del Mar; it takes a lot out of a horse when it's this hot," Mulhall said.

Following the Haskell, the Bafferts continued on their honeymoon trek, flying up to Saratoga. "We'll be at Siro's by 9:30," Baffert said.

So, the tumultuous 2002 Haskell was in the history books. In the end, it was another tour de force for War Emblem, or as the Bafferts might say, a piece of cake. b

Pulling Up
In the most exciting finish of the afternoon, John Franks' Clearly a Queen outdueled 46-1 shot Laurica to win the Eatontown Handicap (gr. IIIT). Clearly a Queen, sent off at 7-2 following her victory in the Matchmaker Stakes (gr. IIIT), scored by a nose under Eibar Coa. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Presumed Innocent. Trained by Terri Pompay, Clearly a Queen covered the 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:44.02.

(Chart, Equibase)